5Qs: U-M Professor David Brophy on Detroit’s Growing Technology Industry


DBusiness Daily News spoke with David Brophy, a professor of finance in both the finance and entrepreneurial departments at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, about how universities can encourage students to explore careers in technology, and how Detroit fares against other cities in creating and attracting high-tech companies. 

1. DDN: What’s your background?

I am a professor of finance at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. I got my Ph.D. at Ohio State University and I’m from Nova Scotia in Canada.

2. DDN: What role can universities play in promoting and creating new tech talent?

Universities are somewhat limited in the fact that with anything they do regarding technology that’s developed — sometimes by accident in the process of a science project — is try for a patent. Too often they see the obtaining of a patent as the end game, when it really is only the starting point. What universities have been systematically lacking is the will and facilities to commercialize products out of the technologies that they produce. In some cases, the university doesn’t see it as their mission. In other cases, they see that it’s a low rate of return on average because not every deal is going to be profitable.

3. DDN: What type of facilities would help a university nurture tech start-ups and support students to hone their tech skills?

No. 1, they have to be willing to sponsor and offer action-based courses, things that involve students actually doing the work necessary to build a company. I think if they really were serious about it they would provide a fund that would provide SEED capital to get students going. Then, on a selective basis, provide growth capital that would move them up the rungs of the ladder. This would allow them the opportunity to meet the private sector venture market and produce really good companies.

4. DDN: What sectors in the tech field do you see having significant growth in the next couple years?

The biggest one right now is what I would call predictive analytics. We’re now in the age of big data. In the extreme, big data means very detailed information and very good means of accessing it and turning it into finished goods, or finished analytics.

5. DDN: How does tech growth in Detroit compare to other cities in the U.S.?

When you figure that only about a quarter of Detroit is recovered yet from the decline, I think they are doing phenomenally well. As the city recovers and as people find reasons to move in, it’s going to get better. The tech aspect is very strong potentially, and in reality. Detroit Venture Partners is a standout; they are bringing companies in from all over the country to the Madison Building. We need people and institutions, particularly institutions in Michigan. In Michigan, we send our money to be managed out of state, and they don’t give a thought to investing it back in Michigan. Start paying attention to the people and the deals that are right under your nose and get it on, invest.

TiE Detroit, the Detroit chapter of the non-profit organization for entrepreneurs, hosts “An Evening with Professor David Brophy,” on Thursday at the offices of the Engineering Society of Detroit in Southfield. Brophy will discuss the common pitfalls of start-ups, reasons that companies fail and succeed, and funding strategies. To register for the event, visit detroit.tie.org.